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Muscle...Muslims...and Rahul's marriage...

May 10, 2014 20:09 IST

Muscle...Muslims...and Rahul's marriage...

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Savera R Someshwar/Rediff.com

Even as Rahul Gandhi lays a dirt-lined foot on the lower step of the ladder, someone behind me says, "Rahul ko ab shaadi kar leni chahiye."

Politics, suddenly, is forgotten...

Savera R Someshwar/Rediff.com takes in the scenes in Varanasi, during a rally where Rahul Gandhi arrived on the last day of the campaigning amid much fanfare.

At walking distance from the Varanasi City railway station, in the Muslim-dominated area of Gol Gadda, a huge crowd has gathered.

They have been waiting patiently for Rahul Gandhi, the Congress scion, who has finally arrived in Varanasi to take on the Bharatiya Janata Party's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi and Aam Aadmi chief Arvind Kejriwal.

The road show is scheduled to begin at 7 am. An hour later, there is still no sign of Gandhi.

The locals derive amusement watching the outsiders -- the media -- scramble towards rooftops and jostle on the road for a vantage point.

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Image: A Congress supporter wears a Rahul Gandhi mask during the roadshow on Saturday.
Photographs: Sandeep Pal/Rediff.com

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Savera R Someshwar/Rediff.com

Desultory conversation takes place about Kejriwal's impressive road show, which had taken place the previous evening.

Finally, at around 8.30 am, shivers of interest. The Congress candidate from Ghaziabad, Raj Babbar, has arrived and is gladhanding the locals. Those who can reach for a handshake are thrilled.

The others, pressed to the side of the road, and standing on the terraces of nearby buildings, grin at the glimpse of the actor.

It builds up the excitement for Rahul, who arrives soon after, and boards the open truck, decorated with marigold garlands. Accompanying him are actress Nagma, Babbar, Ghulam Nabi Azad and the Congress candidate for Varanasi, Ajai Rai.

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Image: Curious Muslim youth gather on rooftops to take a look at the rally.
Photographs: Sandeep Pal/Rediff.com

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Savera R Someshwar/Rediff.com

In Benaras, where almost everyone has a view to share about the on-going elections, even children spout political wisdom. Like hundreds of others in Gol Gadda, 11-year-old Neha Parveen has been ignoring the angry rays of the sun as she waits for a glimpse of Rahul.

Standing on the terrace of the local madrasa, Neha -- who has three younger sisters and two younger brothers -- had a few pithy comments to make about voters, politicians and politics.

"Musalmaans," she says with confidence, "will vote only for the panja (the hand, which is the Congress's electoral symbol) because Narendra Modi is not a man to be trusted." She says Modi is only interested in the welfare of the Hindu community and must be defeated.

As for Kejriwal, he would not be too happy with the way in which this little girl dismisses him.

Little Neha's eloquence may stem from the discussions she has heard in her home and her neighbourhood, but her thoughts clearly had a lot of supporters in the vicinity.

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Photographs: Savera R Someshwar/Rediff.com

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Savera R Someshwar/Rediff.com

A couple of hours later, the Rahul rally arrives at Sonarpura, led by a number of testosterone-charged bike riders -- some of whom have squeezed four onto a bike.

The party workers in Sonarpura have been charging themselves up with anti-Modi pro-Rahul and Rai slogans; occasionally, carried away by the slogans, they break into a little dance.

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Image: Rahul Gandhi in Sonarpura.
Photographs: Savera R Someshwar/Rediff.com
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Savera R Someshwar/Rediff.com

Congress candidate Ajai Rai, who is considered a bahubali (strongman) in Varanasi, has a tough fight on his hands.

While the BJP and Congress warriors have peppered the streets of this most-watched constituency, Rai has been pleading for support from the Gandhi family.

Meanwhile, his lookalike, who walks just ahead of Rahul's car, generates much amusement.

The rally is long; Rai is finally flexing his muscle.

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Image: A lookalike of Congress candidate Ajai Rai is cheered by the crowd.
Photographs: Savera R Someshwar/Rediff.com

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Savera R Someshwar/Rediff.com

At Lanka Gate, outside the Benaras Hindu University, where the rally is scheduled to end, Congress supporters and curious onlookers have been waiting for a few hours.

At past noon, freedom fighter Madan Mohan Malaviya's statue looks on at the fluttering Congress flags. The outsiders-versus-locals feeling is palpable. "The people you see here," says Vagesh Mishra, a student at the BHU and a Congress supporter, "They are not imported. Yahin ke hain, aur yahin ke aadmi ko hi support karenge (They live here, that is why they will support the local man)."

The motorbikes arrive, indicating that Rahul will be soon there as well. A boy, wearing the Congress topi and a garland, rides in on the shoulder of a biker; two men ride pillion; one of whom keeps a tight hold on the boy's kurta from behind.

He generates many smiles; the heat and sweat and grime are forgotten as people rush to pat him on his cheek and shake his hand.

The lad, his face flushed with the Benaras heat, waves and folds his hand like a consummate little politician.

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Image: The boy riding on the biker's shoulders proved to be very popular.
Photographs: Savera R Someshwar/Rediff.com

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It is a visibly tired Rahul who reaches the end of the road show. But the smile is in place and he flings marigold garlands on those standing on the road divider to see him.

The man next to me catches three garlands and becomes an instant hero.

He puts one garland around his son and generously hands over the remaining to others. Meanwhile, mobile phones are out in full force; almost everyone seems to want to capture Rahul with their cameras.

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Image: People use their mobile phones to capture Rahul in action.
Photographs: Savera R Someshwar/Rediff.com
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But Rahul still has a task at hand. He has to clamber up a ladder and garland Pandit Malaviya's statue.

He steps on the latter gingerly, after asking his Special Protection Group security guard who has scrambled up first to secure it, much to the amusement of the watching audience.

"Dar rahe hain Rahul (Rahul is scared)," says someone, a smile in his voice.

After garlanding the statue and waving to the crowd with his dimpled smile, he climbs down slowly and carefully. Even as Rahul Gandhi lays a dirt-lined foot on the lower step of the ladder, someone behind me says, "Rahul ko ab shaadi kar leni chahiye (Rahul should get married now)."

Politics, suddenly, is forgotten. The debate veers towards marriage. "Benaras ki hi ladki ko chun le (He should choose a girl from Benaras)."


Image: Rahul Gandhi with the Congress candidate from Varanasi, Ajai Rai.
Photographs: Sandeep Pal/Rediff.com

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